I've often wondered why Richard Cowper isn't one of the big names of SFF. He had some success with his Road to Corlay trilogy, which is how I found him, but his other work hasn't received the recognition it deserves. That work ranges from standard SF short novels to great stories like the ones in this collection.
Cowper has a delicate, understated style that is a pleasure to read. The stories in this collection are:
- Out There Where the Big Ships Go - an astronaut brings back to Earth an abstract strategy game that sweeps the planet.
Cowper doesn't take this in any of the directions one might predict. Instead, it's a contemplative story of change seen from the very personal perspective of a child.
- The Custodians - a young researcher discovers an unusual power in an isolated monastery.
Again, Cowper doesn't take the obvious path, and the story is calm and reflective while telling of great change.
- Paradise Beach - a married socialite tells her friend about a new artwork her husband has installed in their flat.
This is more of a classic SF crime puzzle, told with a delicate touch, but otherwise not that strong.
- The Hertford Manuscript - a sequel to H.G. Wells' Time Machine.
Clever, and appropriately in character.
- The Web of the Magi - a telegraph surveyor in Latin America finds a hidden valley.
H. Rider Haggard without the bombast, or A. Merritt updated. The story has a somewhat disappointing finish, but is a nice read all the same.
All in all, a very nice collection. If you haven't read Cowper before, this is a good place to start, and I do urge you to start.